At first glance you might think Laura Linney’s new dramedy The Big C is a downer – after all, she plays a school teacher, Cathy Jamison, who is dying of cancer. But you’d be wrong – it’s a show about self-discovery and liberation, filled with warmth, humor and emotion. Oliver Platt portrays her husband, Paul, and Gabourey Sidible plays Andrea, a troubled teen in Cathy’s class.
Laura Linney spoke with us about her new Showtime series, which premieres on August 16.
You’ve said this is more a show about a woman with cancer than a show about cancer. Is that how you saw it from the very beginning, more the character than the condition?
When this script came to me, what hit me the most was the theme of time and what do you do with time, what are the choices that we make; how we spend our time? The fact that we all have a limited amount (of time) and that it’s a privilege to grow old, and that’s something that I think a lot of people have forgotten in this very fast-paced world where youth is overly celebrated. So it was meaningful to me.
So it was what the whole story was about more than just the wonderful character that’s there. Clearly, I thought it was something that I could spend some time with and would be challenged by.
You are doling out Cathy’s life in 28-minute segments here, and I would imagine part of the puzzle for you is figuring out who Cathy is?
I have a feeling she’s a woman who doesn’t really know who she is, and she has the opportunity to find out, and she’s going to take it. She’s someone who has been functioning very well but hasn’t really been living, and so there’s a huge growth spurt throughout this whole experience.
What advice would your character give to someone dealing with this disease?
I don’t think she’d give any advice. She’s pretty self-consumed at the moment. But she’s learning from the experience. She’s learning from the mistakes that she makes. She’s learning from the actions that she does that are positive.
More than trying to have a bucket list, I think she’s trying to figure out who she wants to be more than what she wants to do, although what she wants to do is certainly part of it. There’s a lot of fun stuff that she does do because there’s a sense of liberation in a way, which is so odd, that when you’re dying you’re sort of liberated to do what you want to do. You give yourself permission.
I think everyone’s experience with a terminal disease is so deeply personal and so deeply unique to the person and the context in which they’re living and the relationships that they have.
Liam Neeson will be playing a role on the series soon. You’re no stranger to working with him, did you have anything to do with brokering that deal, and can you tell us who he’ll be playing?
I did. Guilty. It’s a great part. He’s from the alternative medicine world and he’ll be with us for, I think, two days, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Your relationship with TV goes back to Tales of the City and Frasier. How do you feel it serviced you overall?
I think it’s made me a better actress, which is why I love working in different mediums. I find it really challenging. And the television that I’ve done has been some of the happiest experiences I’ve ever had. Tales of the City and John Adams, I deeply love those projects.
And for me to have the opportunity now to stay with one character for hopefully, God willing, a long period of time is for any actor really exciting. Normally, when I do anything, if it’s a film, if it’s the theatre, or a miniseries, I know the beginning and end. I know what my complete arc and journey is. And with this, I don’t, so that’s very new for me, and I’m trying to figure out how to craft something without knowing where it’s going, sort of a bridge to I don’t know where – hopefully not nowhere.
If Weeds goes for another season and The Big C goes for another season, could you do a crossover episode on Showtime about buying medical marijuana?
I would love that. I would love for all of the Showtime shows to cross over. I’d love to go see Nurse Jackie and maybe have an affair with David Duchovny (Californication)!
Do you have any opinion on how this series will end, or have you not thought about that at this point?
No. I don’t want to miss out on what happens before that if that happens. The thing that’s been amazing is that we started the show and then this enormous research came out about this new treatment for melanoma. So I don’t know what’ going to happen, we’ll see.
I find the fullness of the time that she has so wonderful that I’m game for whatever happens, as long as it’s honest.